Former rebel leader arrives in Haiti’s capital as protests against prime minister gain momentum

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A former rebel leader has made a surprise appearance in Haiti’s capital amid large protests across the country for the second consecutive day, demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A former rebel leader made a surprise appearance in Haiti’s capital on Tuesday amid large protests across the country for the second consecutive day, demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

Guy Philippe — who played a key role in the 2004 rebellion against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — was briefly spotted in the upscale community of Pétionville in Port-au-Prince, where he shook hands with Haitians at a park in front of a police station before he left. It wasn’t immediately clear where Philippe was going, but dozens of motorcycle drivers, clearly his supporters, tried to track him down across streets blocked by burning tires.

His appearance caused a great commotion because of a video he released Monday, calling for a rebellion to oust the prime minister on Wednesday, or Feb. 7, the date Haitian leaders are traditionally sworn into office.

A growing number of Haitians accuse the prime minister of holding on to power and failing to organize general elections. Henry assumed the leadership of Haiti, with the backing of the international community, shortly after President Jovenel Moïse was killed in July 2021. Since then, he has pledged to hold elections but has noted, as has the international community, that it is currently too unsafe to do so.

Shortly after appearing in Pétionville on Tuesday, Philippe called Radio Télé Éclair in the middle of a live show.

“Tomorrow, I will be out on the streets with my people,” he said, adding that he would be surrounded by security. “The fight is just the beginning.”

Philippe said on the radio show that he has spoken to different political parties, including ones headed by former Prime Minister Claude Joseph and former presidential candidate Moïse Jean Charles, to try to find a way forward for Haiti.

Philippe was believed to have been living far from Port-au-Prince ever since he was repatriated to Haiti in late November.

A few miles away from where Philippe was spotted, nearly a couple thousand protesters gathered in the capital, preparing to march to the prime minister’s office.

“Ariel has to go! Ariel is the leader of the gangs of this country!” the crowd yelled.

As they began marching, police fired tear gas, temporarily breaking up the crowd as protesters — ranging from teenagers to older adults — vowed that they would reach Henry’s office one way or another. About an hour later, they reached the office, prompting police to barricade the area and fire tear gas and live bullets.

Among those protesting was Carl Henry Joseph, a 40-year-old moto driver who said he wants to see Henry dead.

“This is how much hatred I have for him,” he said as he vowed to rejoin protests planned for Wednesday. “Tomorrow we will do whatever it takes to get him out. I’m willing to die if it means he will leave office.”

Fellow protester Jean-Marc Antoine, 35, said he wants to see Henry resign but wonders what a future leader might bring.

“We are tired of this situation,” he said. “Too many people are dying and the country is just going backwards.”

Another protest organized by Moïse Jean Charles, the former presidential candidate, was taking place nearby as a handful of armed environmental protection agents with Haiti’s Security Brigade for Protected Areas, which recently clashed with police in northern Haiti, arrived amid cheers from supporters.

Other demonstrations were reported in Haiti’s southern and northern regions on Tuesday, with the biggest protests expected on Wednesday, the date demonstrators have set for Henry to resign.

“If Ariel doesn’t leave office by midnight on Feb. 7, we are not responsible for what happens to him,” said Joseph, Haiti’s former prime minister, to a crowd of thousands who cheered in the southern coastal city of Saint-Louis-du-Sud.

Feb. 7 is considered a key date in Haiti. On that date in 1986, former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled for France, and in 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, was sworn in.

The growing number of protests comes as Haiti struggles with a spike in gang violence and deepening poverty, awaiting a U.N.-backed deployment of Kenyan police officers that a court in the east African country recently blocked.

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